More Archival Traces of Bartenieff

More Archival Traces of Bartenieff

Irmgard Bartenieff’s letters to Rudolf Laban, as I mentioned in the previous blog, also reveal how she adapted to American culture and redefined herself as a professional – moving beyond dance into physical therapy, dance therapy, and dance anthropology.

In a letter to Laban dated July 21, 1944, Irmgard wrote:

“I went into my work with the sick abnormal body with this curiosity, and I discovered, while always working with the sick as well as with the average untrained working person, how deeply buried the joy and understanding of movement is in most people – to a degree that we really cannot be astonished about the small audiences dancers get.”

Later, in her letter to Laban dated October 12, 1947, Bartenieff added:

“As you probably remember, this ‘insulated’ business of what we used to call ‘Kunsttanz’ [art dance] has never fully given satisfaction to me – I am much rather an artisan with good tools and alert senses to perfect and understand movement in its many manifestations and work with many different people.Read More

Constant Change…


As Irmgard Bartenieff used to observe, “Constant change is here to stay.” This is certainly the case in Berlin, where Bartenieff grew up. When I first taught for Eurolab  — Rotterdam (1988) and Berlin (1993-1996) – the Laban Certificate Programs were modeled on the American version. And it was an irony of history that these early programs depended heavily on American faculty to teach the Europeans what the Europeans had taught the Americans! 

Two decades later, under the able direction of Antja Kennedy, the Laban programs in Germany have developed a unique format, delivered by European faculty in both German and English.Read More

Advancing Laban’s Ideas in Virtual Space


Moving oneself and observing others move are the best ways to learn about movement, but not the only ways. Recently I’ve been experimenting (successfully!) with correspondence courses.

It may seem counterintuitive that something as “old school” as a correspondence course can advance Laban’s work. But I, and nearly 40 readers on five continents, have been finding that this a great way to approach two of Laban’s most seminal books, Choreutics  (aka The Language of Movement) and Mastery of Movement.  

Choreutics primarily focuses on the space and shape aspects of movement, while Mastery deals more with body and effort.Read More

Psychological Dimensions of Effort 2


In relation to the psychological aspects of effort, Laban also drew upon C.J. Jung’s theory of personality types. Jung posits four “Functions of Consciousness”  – sensing, thinking, feeling, and intuiting. Sensing tells you that something exists.  Thinking tells you what it is.  Feeling tells you whether it is agreeable or not.  Intuiting tells you whence it comes and where it is going.

Laban hypothesized that these psychological functions are embodied through each of the four motion factors. The motion factor of Weight relates to sensing; Space, to thinking; Flow, to feeling; and Time, to intuiting. Read More

Flow Changes Everything

Group of contemporary dancers performing on stage

When flow takes the place of another motion factor, Laban wrote, “the expression is more intense” and the whole configuration “gains new meaning.” In the Mastery of Movement correspondence course, we tested Laban’s assertion.

Readers were asked to choose one of the transformation drives – either Passion or Vision or Spell. They were to work out the eight effort quality combinations of that drive and then embody each mood.

The Vision Drive combines the motion factors of Space, Time, and Flow (the motion factor of Weight is latent).… Read More

Experimenting With The Chemistry of Effort

Testing new chemical reactions in university lab

Laban wrote about the “chemistry” of effort, and this provides a fertile metaphor for understanding dynamic aspects of human behavior. Chemistry investigates the building blocks of matter – atoms, molecules, and compounds. The whole material world is made of these simple elements and their interactions.

Laban effort theory is equally elegant. There are only four motion factors, but these combine to make four Drives. The eight effort qualities combine to make eight different manifestations of each drive. And then there are the “incomplete efforts.”

As Laban describes, sometimes only two motion factors “give the shading to the movement.” Nevertheless, “bodily actions manifesting incomplete effort participation are expressive of a variety of inner attitudes.”

There are six “incomplete effort compounds” with contrasting qualities: awake and dream, remote and near, stable and mobile.… Read More

Just Add Flow

Colored splashes on white background

Laban’s well-known basic actions combine the movement factors of Space, Weight, and Time. However, the whole mood of an action changes when Flow replaces one of these motion factors. Then the functional action is transformed into a visionary, passionate, or spell-binding mood.

Laban admits that “even when man sets about a working job and his bodily actions have to fulfill practical functions they are distinguished by personal expression.”

However, when flow takes the place of another motion factor, “the expression is more intense.” According to Laban, this is because “These configurations build up individual units in which the single constituent part submerges entirely.” Thus the whole gains a new meaning and importance.… Read More

Demons Into Goddesses Through Effort Magic

Beautiful girl following butterflies on a mountain

Laban personifies each of the eight basic actions in Mastery of Movement. He characterizes Floating (all indulging qualities of Weight, Time, and Space) as the Goddess and Punching (all fighting effort qualities) as the Demon. He goes on to note that it will not be difficult for the actor or dancer to depict these characters, for we “remember the age-old symbolism of love’s soft floating movements, and of the violent and abrupt movements of hatred.”

During the recent MoveScape Center Mastery of Movement correspondence course, Rebecca Nordstrom created a sequence of basic actions and imagined this movement sequence as a scenario involving the Demon and the Goddess.… Read More

Laban’s Eight “Basic Actions”

Handyman with tools

Anyone with even a brief exposure to Rudolf Laban’s work will be familiar with the eight Basic Actions – float, glide, dab, flick, punch, press, wring, and slash. These functional actions are the bedrock of Laban’s effort theory.

As Laban noted, humans move to satisfy needs. Some needs are tangible – food, shelter, rest, and physical safety. This is where the basic actions come in – we employ these when working with material objects to achieve material needs.

Movement occurs in sequences, and these basic actions can be arranged to create a “scale of moods.” In the recent MoveScape Center correspondence course, “Mastering Rudolf Laban’s Mastery of Movement, we played with creating sequences of basic actions to see what kind of situations these effort changes might suggest.… Read More

April Dances Bring Advances 2


Fifteen years ago, Olie Westheimer, executive director of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group approached the Mark Morris Dance Company about creating a dance class for her clients.  Dance for PD©, a program training teachers and providing classes for those with Parkinson’s disease, is the result.

The program initially met with skepticism, recalls dancer-developer David Leventhal.  Medical doctors felt that dance is “frivolous.”  As Leventhal notes,  “There is a lot of misconception about the amount of learning and skill and brain work and physical work that somebody has to do to execute a dance.”

Helen Bronte-Stewart, a Stanford professor of neurology and former dancer, agrees.  Read More